The Ultimate Guide to Creating and Managing a Remote Team

Are you thinking of starting a remote team?
remote work

Special thanks to our contributors:

buffer formassembly camplight onthegosystems designlab giantswarm countly

Disclosure: The fact that the companies below participated in the guide doesn't mean that they are affiliated with our products, or other products from the time tracking/monitoring industry.

Introduction

Research shows that 54% of global companies allow remote work, while 16% of them are fully remote. You probably thought about hiring someone who would work outside of your office, at least for a part-time role. And it’s completely understandable, as there are many perks to hiring outside of your town or even your continent.

Since remote work is just going to become more popular as the time goes by, we decided to create an ultimate guide for any company that wants to use its benefits.

Remote Team Challenges and Solutions

Remote work comes with many challenges - both for workers and for employers. All of them can be tackled, but it’s important you’re completely aware of what remote workforce can bring to the table.

Time Zone Issues

One of many challenges are of course time zone issues. You might have employees working in Pacific time zone, while others are in Moscow standard time. That is a 10-hour difference that might be tough to overcome.

Besides producing communication issues, different time zones can cause delays in production, delivery and project completion. Having people respond to questions after 10 hours will certainly slow down any tasks your team is trying to complete.

To overcome this challenge, you can either hire people how are in the neighboring time zones, or make sure you organize staff meetings only when everyone's working.

Data Security

Making sure your data is secure can be a complicated matter if your employees are halfway across the world. 

Even with everything in the cloud, a rogue employee can still download excessive amounts of data to use against you.

Security experts recommend that you limit access to any confidential and crucial information. Additionally, having a security monitoring tool which can notify you in case a lot of data is downloaded.

Language and Cultural Obstacles

Having a globally diverse team is great, until those differences become obstacles. Almost every country in the world has different customs, so it’s inevitable that at some point this will cause an issue.

It’s much easier for things to be taken out of context or the wrong way, if two people who are talking have been brought up in different regions, with experiences and perceptions which are completely opposite.

Luckily, you can overcome this challenge like any other with a bit of practice. Start off by giving an opportunity to each new member to share some most common insights about their region. The idea is for those differences to start breaking right away, and for your team to understand that mishaps might happen because of diversity.

Are My Employees Working?

The most common issue employers fear when hiring remotely, is whether their remote workers will actually do the work they were hired to do. When people are working from home, with no one to peak above their shoulder, it can be extremely easy to wander into the world of memes and videos.

Luckily, there are various remote monitoring software options available, which can help you out (but we’ll talk more about that later).

Already aware of employee monitoring software solutions? Try Workpuls for free!

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Pros and Cons of Having a Remote Workforce

Like you’ve seen, remote team management comes with its challenges and cons, but it’s not all bad news, there are awesome perks to having a distributed workforce:

  • It is cost-effective since you’re cutting down on office space, office equipment, furniture, etc.
  • You get immediate access to a worldwide talent pool as you’re not limited by location.
  • Remote teams have higher retention stats, as 8 out of 10 remote employees are happy with their job.
  • 77% of remote workers reported they became more productive since they started working out of office.
  • In the end, 79% of workers agree that they would be more loyal to an employer who offers flexibility.

Besides the challenges we listed above, there are some more cons to remote team:

  • Employees could be more distracted because there’s way more distractions at home or in a coffee shop than in an office.
  • Communication issues can arise due to lack of clarity, diversity, and improper tools.
  • Remote workers could be harder to discipline since they’re living halfway across the world.
  • With remote teams, you’re heavily relying on technology, and if something breaks down you could lose hours or days before its fixed.
  • Team management gets complicated as your team keeps growing because you need to keep track of 50 people in 50 different places. Keeping track of everyone’s working hours, vacation days, payrolls, etc. won’t become easy all of a sudden
pros and cons of remote work

What’s in it for Employees?

Now you know what’s in it for you, and how your business can benefit from having a distributed team. However, what you should also know and keep in mind is the fact that employees benefit from working remotely.

Employees love remote work because it gives them flexibility. They get to choose where to work from, and usually when to work as well. It’s a great benefit for people who have long commutes to work, or working parents who would like to spend more time with their family.

Remote work also means less costs for the employee, as they don’t have to spend money on trains, buses or gas. Working off site might be good for your health as well, since working from home surely lowers down stress levels.

Additionally, if you need to travel and you don’t want to lose vacation days you have left - you can just carry your laptop with you and work from your parent’s place while you’re visiting.

Some of the team members from Buffer were kind enough to share their own perceptions about remote work from the perspective of an employee, here are their responses.

buffer

In your experience, why is remote work more beneficial for employees than in-office work?

joan deitchman

Joan Deitchman

Engineering Manager at Buffer

As a working mom it gives me greater flexibility and saves me time by not having to commute.

juliana gomez

Juliana Gomez

Front End Engineer at Buffer

Living in a big city, remote work gives me time I’d normally spend on stressful public transit to take care of myself: go to the gym, cook at home, play with my cats. Working remote also means that I get complete control over my environment and I can tailor it specifically to the things that make me most productive. I get a lot more quality work done this way, with less stress in a shorter period of time.

katie gilmur

Katie Gilmur

Customer Advocate at Buffer

I feel very grateful for the people remote work connects me to. It brings incredible people together who otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to connect. I feel that it allows a lot of different perspectives to contribute towards a common goal, and doesn’t limit the pool of coworkers you might have to just one location. I feel lucky I can travel as needed to be with family/friends and still be able to work, have more opportunity to focus on health/wellness with the time I save commuting (or you know, putting on ‘real’ clothes :sweat_smile:), and adjust my hours as needed for appointments, etc.

heather-mae pusztai

Heather-Mae Pusztai

Customer Advocate at Buffer

As a military family, remote work has allowed me to maintain a consistent career despite our frequent moves. Without the freedom to work from anywhere, I’d be forced to “start over” every few years.  I’m incredibly grateful that instead, I can continue to grow in my role and work alongside amazing teammates from around the world from wherever we are.

Where to Look for Remote Workers?

Given how popular remote positions have become, we were able to see an increase in online job boards, as well as in social media pages/groups which are fully dedicated to helping remote companies find workers.

Besides, finding freelancers or even full-time employees can be done through platforms like Upwork, Freelancer or Fiverr.

However, if you prefer using traditional platforms for job seekers, you can always post a remote job there, or even look for talent on LinkedIn.

What to Look for in a Remote Employee?

When you’re looking to hire remotely, you should be aware that not everyone works well in such an environment. We definitely recommend that you try and hire someone who already worked remotely. Working from home comes with many challenges, and not everyone can cope with them.

Think like you’re hiring someone to work in the office with your team - they should match your culture, but they also need to be even more independent and proactive than your other team members. Additionally, their communication skills should be top notch since your collaboration will depend on them.

onur alp soner

Onur Alp Soner

CEO - Countly

What would you say are the most important qualities to look for in a remote employee?

I would say self-discipline and managing one's own psychology.

No amount of communication tools will replace the daily interaction you have when you work in an office, thus remote work requires some getting used to. If the candidate has prior remote experience, it's great, but usually that's not the case. I prefer talking with candidates openly about all ups and downs of remote work during the hiring process. The reactions and feedback I get when I talk about the ups/downs are important.

The second point is about self-discipline. Even if you work for another company, in remote work you are very much your own boss. Sure, you report to and work with others, but you don't usually have the peer pressure environment that an office has which is the source of discipline for most people. Ability to plan and manage your time without someone over your shoulder is very important.

Neither of these qualities is easy to judge by online calls you have with candidates, but over time you build a pretty good understanding. Other than these, remote work is still work so you look for the analytical thinker, cultural fit and overall best person for the task. Luckily the world is full of great people to work with!

Onboarding Process

When onboarding new employees who are working in the office, you usually show them around the space, let them meet the whole team and hang out with everyone. Maybe you even have a buddy system, which helps new recruits adapt to work quicker. Depending on the position, there might be some training involved for the first few days, or weeks. The important thing is that your new employee has someone to talk to during their first weeks, and that they’re in constant communication with their managers and colleagues.

camplight

Camplight Team

What is one crucial part of the onboarding process you should never skip in order to integrate new employees smoothly?

Camplight is an invite-only cooperative. On the one hand, our onboarding process is concerned with seeing whether we can collaborate effectively with the onboardee. On the other hand, we try to understand whether it’s okay for them to get closer to the “fire”. Given that, I think the most crucial part in the onboarding process is whether the core team has no objections against the person in question.
This gathering of objections is the very last step of our onboarding process. The person who guides the guest to the way we work, creates an initiative in which they ask whether everybody is okay for the onboardee to join the core team. If someone has arguments against this, we drop the invitation and may consider it again later.
Of course, sometimes a person who was invited decides to leave the cooperative after a while. Despite that, keeping Camplight invite-only and focusing mainly on whether we’d like to work with a given person has made it possible to grow strong relationships within.

Things are a bit more complicated with remote workers. It’s not easy keeping them on the line for the whole day so they can ask questions and hang out with new coworkers.

When welcoming new telecommuters, you should try and have as much face-to-face time as possible with them. They should be included in meetings, meet the team through a video conference, and get acquainted with everyone’s roles.

larissa lanz

Larissa Lanz

HR Manager at Giant Swarm

What are the steps you're taking to make sure new remote team members go through the onboarding process smoothly?

At Giant Swarm, the onboarding process starts the moment you sign your contract. This is when you’re introduced to your personal buddy - a person holding the same position and your go-to person for all questions that might come up. On your first day, you’ll virtually meet with your buddy and People Ops to go through the initial steps, with regards to admin issues, which meetings to attend, how to get started, where to get all the info/training you’ll need.

This is followed up by very regular meetings both with your buddy as well as People Ops, initially, these meetings are quite frequent and then fade out over time. During the first couple of months every new team member schedules a 30 min. 1:1 session with every single person within the company, with the aim of getting to know each other on a more personal level, before eventually meeting everyone in person at one of our two off-sites per year.

A quarterly “New Bee” Retrospective meeting which all new team members attend twice ensures that our onboarding process is refined over time, and that issues are addressed as soon as possible. Additionally, we’ve created an “ask-me-anything” channel on Slack where all questions from admin to deep tech questions can be asked, but of course, the whole team is always happy to help out.

Paying Remote Workers

One huge concern among employers who’re looking to hire remotely are the payments. How can you pay remote workers?

Plain old bank transfers might do just fine. However, depending on where you and your workers are located, this might not be completely legal in case your worker isn’t registered as a business entity. Make sure you’ve consulted local lawyers and accountants to get your ducks in a row before you start making payments.

In most cases, the remote employees who are working for a company full-time are self-employed. Therefore, the company they work for is paying for their taxes, healthcare, social security, and any other costs which are required by the law in remote workers’ country.

Since remote work and freelancing are at an all time high right now, there are many payment services which are pretty favorable for you and for employees. Some of which are cheaper than regular bank transfers. These services, like TransferWise and Payoneer, will take some commission fee either from you or from the employee, so make sure to double check these additional costs.

Embracing the Technology

Technology allows you to have remote workers, so why not use it to your advantage? There’s a set of various tools you’ll need to keep everyone in the loop, and maintaining healthy relationships among team members.

mandy kerr

Mandy Kerr

Director of Shared Services at Designlab

What are the tech tools your team can't do without?

As a fully remote team spread across 4 different time zones we need to be really engaged with the tech tools that we use. Communication is always key to ensuring that any team remains productive, happy and focused. This is particularly true when you don’t sit in the same office and sometimes work completely asynchronously. Of all the tech tools we use at Designlab to stay connected, here are the ones we just can’t do without:
Asana - Asana is our planning and project hub.  We use it to make sure that we are all working on the most important things at the right time in our planning and execution cycle.
Slack - Slack is where the bulk of our communications happen. We use it to ask questions, share information, connect with one another about work or common interests. In many ways, it is our equivalent of a quick tap-on-the-shoulder chat.
Zoom - As a remote team we don’t often get to sit around a table together when we meet but using Zoom for our video calls has meant this is not a problem.
Airtable - We work with a lot of data which at times can feel overwhelming. Airtable helps us to organize our data in myriad useful ways.
Guru - Sharing information is pretty crucial to creating effective processes and providing a seamless customer experience. We use Guru to ensure that all the process, product and system information we need exists at our fingertips and not only in the heads of our experts.

Communication Tools

Apps like Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype, or any other app of your preference that will make daily communication easier. The software you select should have the ability of video conferencing so you can get as much face-to-face time as possible with each employee.

Collaboration Tools

Cloud-based docs, sheets, presentations, design or video editing tools will make it easier for your team members to work together. Some of them might be a bit costly, but it’s the simplest way to keep everyone on the team involved.

Project Management Software

Trello, Asana, Jira are just some of the apps you can use to manage projects and tasks on your team. Everyone can mark finished tasks, add new ones, and you always have an overview of what’s in the pipeline for every department.

workpuls tools

Good Connection and Quality Equipment

Depending on your budget, you can provide funds for better internet connection and more suitable equipment to your remote employees. It’s a bummer (and very unprofessional) when meetings break up due to poor connectivity.

Time Tracking and Employee Monitoring Tools

By using remote employee monitoring software or remote time tracking software you can always be sure your team is staying productive and efficient. While monitoring tools provide you with info about what they’re working on, time tracking tools can give you insight into how many hours they’ve actually worked and help you pay them fairly.

Building a Company Culture in a Remote Team

Company culture is a hot topic in remote companies, because it’s much easier building a culture in co-located teams. Co-located teams can work on their culture between tasks, as well as by organizing various after-work activities.

The first thing you have to know is that it’s going to be hard establishing a culture in a distributed team. Next, the culture doesn’t depend on group activities, it depends on the way your team members work, collaborate, communicate and depend on each other.

This doesn’t mean that you should forget about getting the whole team together every once in a while, or that you shouldn’t give back to the communities where your people are located.

Keeping Employees Engaged

Employee engagement needs to be carefully maintained each day, and there are several things you, as a manager, can do to help out.

team communication

Regular Team Meetings

Organizing regular team meetings in which everyone will participate. Depending on your company’s structure these might involve the whole company, or separate teams. It’s important to set aside an hour (or even more) every week, month or quarter (whatever works for you) to sit down and talk to everyone. Share new ideas, discuss progress, problems, celebrate success and everything else in between.

Additionally, take 5-15 minutes per day to do short briefing once everyone’s in, just to get everyone up to speed on that day’s tasks.

One on One Meetings

Besides talking to the whole team at once, it’s important you take time to talk to each employee separately. Having monthly discussions about their progress, improvement opportunities, and any concerns is beneficial for you, as well as for your employees.

If your workers are dissatisfied about something, they’ll be able to voice their opinion, and it will give you great insight on what can be improved within the company.

Promote Transparency

It’s easy to stay in the dark when you’re halfway across the world from the rest of the team. That’s why you should make an effort to notify everyone about all the things that are changing. It only takes a few minutes of your day, and it can make or break your team.

Transparency should also be incorporated into relationships among team members, not just the management and employees. All workers should be able to talk openly about any issues or challenges they’re facing, and it’s your job to lead by example and show the whole team that openness goes a long way.

Watercooler Chat

It’s impossible to chat with your coworkers while you’re making coffee or prepping lunch in a distributed environment. However, given that you’re using a communication software, you should create a channel or a group that will be used to share memes, discuss the new episode of everyone’s favorite TV show, or just to share personal news.

The team functions when people make friends within that team, and it’s highly unlikely anyone will make a friend if they’re only talking about work.
Additionally, take 5-15 minutes per day to do short briefing once everyone’s in, just to get everyone up to speed on that day’s tasks.

Team Retreats

Everyone loves to travel, and team retreats are a perfect opportunity for everyone to meet, hangout and collaborate. Additionally, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience to spend a few days with your team in another country.

joey owens-barham

Joey Owens-Barham

Director of Talent and Culture at Form Assembly

How yearly reunions help your remote team? And what would you say to a remote company that's trying to organize such a reunion for the first time?

For a fully integrated, cohesive team that is used to collaborating over video calls and Slack messages - having one or two designated times a year where they can interact in person is invaluable.

This is the time where coworkers can see each other as more than just coworkers, and for managers to see the small unique traits that make their teams do what they do best.  It’s also a great relevancy tool for peer-to-peer relationships. For example, maybe two members of your team haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye on collaborating on a key project. After spending time together at a retreat, they may have a deeper understanding of each other's communication style, leading to a breakthrough in looking at the same challenge through a new lens.

For companies looking to implement a team reunion or retreat - the key step to planning is making the retreat or reunion work for your particular team. Throughout your planning, make sure to circle back to the ROI on the activity, the meal, the agenda. Make sure that you not only communicate the broad purpose of the trip but also that these are activities that your team is interested in. Especially if the trip has minimal direct work-related sessions (and is heavy on the intrapersonal bonding and “fun” events) it will be a key driver for success if you openly share with your team the purpose behind that escape room, horseback riding session, or brewery tour. That purpose is to recalibrate as people and to know each other better in order to tackle more complex business challenges in a unified front.

How Can You Keep Remote Workers Motivated?

We can’t say this enough times, but communication really is the key to successful remote teams. It’s like with long-distance relationships - trust and communication go a very long way. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that regular communication is also how you keep your distant employees motivated and engaged.

Besides that, an employee recognition program is a great option to motivate remote teams! It can include praises, gift cards or any other incentives.

It’s important you don’t forget that your remote employees also have aspirations and a wish to be promoted at some point. Offer growth options, further development, courses, additional training - anything your employees need to become better at what their doing.

laura de figueiredo

Laura de Figueiredo

General Manager at OnTheGoSystems

Top 3 things you're doing to keep your remote team motivated?

Treating our team as people, not just employees

At OnTheGoSystems we believe that to get the best out of people it is important to truly know them. To know what gets them motivated, how they like to work and what their interests are. 
People are not simply faceless employees. Many of them will prefer to work in different ways. It is our job to understand that and to get the best out of them in a way that works for the company and for each of them.

For example, our company offers an annual scholarship program in which we provide a bursary for each person which they can spend on some physical activity of their choice or on learning a new skill. If people are constantly pushing themselves both physically and mentally in it can only have a positive impact on their work.As our motto goes, “Happy people make great products.”

Our company is your company

We believe it is important that everyone at the company feels it is their company. Regardless of which team they work in, we want them to know that they are having an active input in OnTheGoSystem’s direction.

We are transparent. We show everyone all that goes on behind the scenes. We have recurrent updates with the whole company where we show where we stand financially and discuss what our company goals are. When we attend WordCamps, WordPress Meetups or any other professional events we want our team to be proud to represent us. We achieve this by supporting each other and showing respect to everyone who works at the company.

Getting the best out of each other

Our jobs are challenging and fast-paced and, even if they’ve spent years at the company, there are always times when members of our team are not sure how to complete a new task. That’s why we make sure people feel comfortable enough to ask for help from their peers.

You should not be afraid to say “I don’t know how to do it.” There will always be someone who can teach you and help you provide an answer to your problem. 

People are also motivated if they are given the freedom to choose how they get their work done. We are a great believer in providing flexibility to our team members. 

As well as choosing how they work we believe it is important to give people the freedom to pursue new, challenging tasks. Performing the same work each day is a recipe for boredom which affects productivity. Therefore, we encourage people and teams to take on various roles.

Handling Conflict in Distributed Teams

Employee conflict is going to happen, and it doesn’t matter if your team is distributed or local. That’s fine, as long as it’s not happening all the time, and as long as you know how to handle conflict properly.

In a remote office, conflict will rarely happen because of personal issues - work and misunderstandings are usually the cause of the problem. The good side of that is that it’s easier to manage than interpersonal conflict. However, without a lot of face-to-face contact disputes can happen more often than not.

The way to deal with conflict is to start by identifying the problem. Talk to the employees who are having a dispute, and let them explain what happened. Afterwards, you can sit down with everyone involved. Let them express their concerns, while you try to clarify or find a compromise. Once the team members reach an agreement, the deal is sent via email to all sides for future reference.

It seems simple, but people usually overlook the simplest solutions.

Processes, Processes, Processes

Clear processes are the oil that keeps your company running. And if you have clear, outlined processes and procedures in your office, why wouldn’t you have some for your distributed teams?

Written processes are important because they help out your business in numerous ways:

  • Improving internal communication - which is, like we said, one of the most important factors of successful remote teams
  • Improving external communication
  • Simplifying workload and workflow management
  • Providing a baseline to measure performance
  • Helping employees finish tasks when the person in charge is not working
  • Providing a baseline to measure performance
  • Increasing company value if you choose to sell the business

It might take time and money to develop all procedures, and it will definitely take time for your employees to get used to the new rules. Additionally, your new employees will settle in much quicker, since everything they need to do will be presented to them in a neat form.

processes

Dealing with Growth

It’s easy for CEOs to talk to everyone regularly, and oversee all changes when you have a team of 5 people. As the team grows, it will be harder to stay on top of everything that’s happening in each team, which is why you need to embrace a few changes.

Implementing Structural Changes

At the point when you have 10 or more people in your team, you can start differentiating the departments. Your job is to empower your team members to be more independent, to take charge and make decisions - even the big ones!

Create an organizational structure. Make sure everyone is aware of their duties and tasks. Additionally, all workers should know who to go to when they need assistance with a certain aspect of their process.

The point of structural changes is for you to stop being involved in every little aspect of your business, and let someone else take the lead.

Implementing Structural Changes

At the point when you have 10 or more people in your team, you can start differentiating the departments. Your job is to empower your team members to be more independent, to take charge and make decisions - even the big ones!

Create an organizational structure. Make sure everyone is aware of their duties and tasks. Additionally, all workers should know who to go to when they need assistance with a certain aspect of their process.

The point of structural changes is for you to stop being involved in every little aspect of your business, and let someone else take the lead.

Adaptability

Adaptability is a virtue, and if you’re looking to succeed in any kind of business, you need to have it. Accommodating to the new tech is the first step.

As you team grows, the tools you’re using (or plans) might not be able to handle the number of workers you have. You can anticipate problems, or bigger costs for any of the subscriptions you have.

At some point you’ll need to sit down and think if the tools you’re using are the best option for you, both technically and financially. Do some research, or better yet, hand over this task to one of your IT team members. They’ll certainly be able to find a more suitable and cost-efficient solution.

Preventing Burnout

Researchers define burnout as a psychological syndrome emerging as a prolonged response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. 

Dynamic, growing environment makes you feel like you have to handle everything yourself, and if you’re doing this you have to be prepared for a burnout. But it’s not only your burnout you need to think about - your employees could be stressing out and feeling overworked as well.

The first step towards preventing burnout is to make sure your team can handle the current workload.. If your team is struggling with work, it’s obvious they either don’t have enough time to handle the tasks, or they’re not properly equipped. Organize a meeting to discuss these issues, and if your team feels like more people would help out, estimate your budget and start hiring. On the other hand, maybe your employees don’t have enough knowledge or tech to perform in a better way. In which case you should invest in courses, training, or maybe even new hardware and software.

Additionally, you can incorporate awesome practices into your culture like mental health days, unlimited vacation, allowances for gym or spa memberships, etc.

remote working

Awesome Stats About Remote Work

We’ve already mentioned some remote work stats in the beginning of this guide, however, we thought it would be good to share some numbers which could be considered unusual and offer some explanation behind them.

  • 29% of completely remote companies are led by women. They either have female CEOs, founders or presidents (to give you some perspective, only 17% of startups in the overall business community have a female founder)
  • Remote workforce has grown by 140% since 2005
  • 90% of remote workers plan on working remotely for the rest of their careers
  • 55% of hiring managers agree that remote work among their full-time employees is becoming more common, and they expect 38% of their workers to be remote within the next decade
  • 58% of remote employees said remote work improved their motivation
  • 28% of remote workers describe themselves as introverts; 38% say they’re ambiverts, while 34% identify as extroverts

Thank you

Special thanks to everyone who participated in this guide, and shared their experience with leading a remote team.

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